Thao people

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Er nd 3014 Thao.jpg
Thao/Ngan young man of Sun Moon Lake, Nantou, Taiwan ca 1904
Total population
626 (2008)
Regions with significant populations
Mandarin, Taiwanese, Thao
Animism, Buddhism
Thao at Sun Moon Lake, photo from a 1926 brochure of the Government of Formosa

The Thau/Ngan (Chinese: 邵族; pinyin: Sào zú) are a small group of Taiwanese aborigines who have lived near Sun Moon Lake (Lake Candidius) in central Taiwan for at least a century, and probably since the time of the Qing dynasty. In the year 2000 the Thao/Ngan tribe numbered only 281, making them the smallest of all of the recognized aboriginal tribes in Taiwan (a number of aboriginal tribes, both smaller and larger than the Thau in population remain unrecognized by the Taiwanese governing authorities).[1]

They are the smallest of the Taiwanese aborigine group in terms of population and the smallest ethnic group in Taiwan. Despite their small group size, the Thau/Ngan have retained their customs, beliefs and traditional culture and language until now, though they have been assimilated into mainstream Chinese culture as well. Most of the members of this ethnic group work today as menial workers, cooks and vendors in the tourism industry at Sun Moon Lake. The Chi-Chi earthquake of 1999 damaged or destroyed 80% of the houses of the Thau/Ngan tribe and made many of them lose employment.


The Thau/Ngan people have their own language, the Thau language, which is nearly extinct and spoken by only a few, mostly elders, of the (already small) Thau ethnic population. The language has been sinicized. Most people who speak Thau are bilingual or trilingual and can speak Mandarin Chinese and/or Taiwanese as well. The Thao/Ngan language is classified as a Paiwan language, and a Formosan language which is a geographical subgroup of the much larger Austronesian language family. The Thau language has loanwords from the Bunun language, spoken by the Bunun ethnic group of which the Thao/Ngan tribe cooperated with as well as intermarried.


Here is the legend of why the Thao people live in the side of Sun Moon Lake. The ancestors originally lived on an island in the middle of Sun Moon Lake. They then saw a deer and wanted to eat it, so they chased it until they arrived in the side of Sun Moon lake. Then the deer ran into the water, leaving the Thau tribe by themselves. They could only wait. The Thau people then slept at Sun Moon Lake. One of the elders dreamed of a fairy in a white cloak. He said to them "I am the deer that led you here. This place is your promised land. Please don't leave, because generations will come." The elder told the others about the dream, but now the Thau are still struggling with numerous problems.

Official recognition[edit]

On 15 August 2001, the Executive Yuan (Council) of Taiwan officially recognized the Thau/Ngan tribe as the tenth ethnic group among Taiwan's indigenous peoples. The Thau have been mistakenly regarded as the ‘Tsou’ tribe (a separate and different ethnic group of aborigines) since the time of Japanese occupation. The error was caused by both a misunderstanding of the legend saying that "the ancestors of Thao were from the mountain Alishan (Mountain A Li)" and the similar pronunciation of ‘Thau/Ngan’ and ‘Tsou’. Thus, the domain of the Thaus/Ngans had been registered as "Tsous from the flatlands of the mountains" under the nine ethnic groups of Taiwan’s indigenous peoples.

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